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Bible Commentaries

Seiss' Lectures on Leviticus and Revelation

Revelation 4

Verse 1

For additional commentary on Revelation 4:1, see Revelation 4:2-11.

Lecture 8.

(Revelation 4:1)


Revelation 4:1. (Revised Text). After these things I saw, and behold, a door set open in the heaven, and the former voice which I heard, as of a trumpet, speaking with me, saying, Come up hither, and I will show thee the things which must take place after these things.

These words begin a new vision, which constitutes the second grand section of the Apocalypse. It occupies two chapters. It relates not to things on earth, but to things in heaven, and to things subsequent to the period covered by the seven Churches. As the first vision embraces the entire earthly career of the Church on earth, from its organization under the apostles to the coming of Christ, this gives us the state of things intervening between the removal or rapture of the saints, and the letting forth of judgment upon apostate Christendom. In other words, it is the Apocalypse of Christ in relation to His elect in heaven, after they have been "taken"--"caught up"--miraculously removed from the world to the pavilion cloud,-and previous to the going forth of His visitations upon those not "accounted worthy to escape all these things," and "left."

But before entering upon this sublime disclosure, there are still some things relating to the Church in its earthly career and fate, which it will be important first to clear up more fully.

In applying the seven Epistles to the successive periods in the history of the Church, a succession of pictures of growing apostasy and defection was exhibited, so contrary to current feelings and ideas, that some, perhaps, might be disposed to question the correctness of the interpretation. Some may perhaps think, that if the tendency of the professed Church is ever downward, then the Church must be considered a failure, and the Gospel regarded as inadequate to its purposes. I had not overlooked these bearings of the subject. It is also due to the truth, and to such as are honestly perplexed in adjusting our expositions to the general scheme of Providence and Revelation, that something more should be said.

Observe, then, in the first place, that so far as regards the history of the Church hitherto, it is a simple matter of fact that its course has always been in the line of deterioration; that mischiefs of different sorts have successively assailed it, and made sad havoc of its faith and life; and that from no one of them has it ever recovered, or given signs of its ability or destiny to recover. In a recent course of able Lectures on the Ages of Christendom, I find it announced, as the result of a faithful induction of the facts, that "Ecclesiastical history is, to a large extent, a history of corruptions."[29] That such is the truth, every one may easily ascertain for himself. The very creeds of the Church are just so many protestations against the consuming errors which have invaded and preyed upon it, and which, once introduced, never entirely disappear. Apart, then, from all prophetic interpretation, it is a stubborn fact, which we must dispose of the best way we can, that the power of deterioration has hitherto held vast sway in the professing Church. History thus accords with prophetic foreshowing, and bears upon its unalterable records what was already foreseen and foretold from the very beginning. And if we do shut our eyes and ears to what the prophets have said, because the picture is unwelcome and embarrassing, the same stands written where we must meet it, and where we must deal with it, unrelieved by the convenient resort of referring it to some wild and bewildering theories of prophetic interpretation. It is fact, and we must admit it, whether it be in the prophecies or not.

[29] Congregational Lecture for 1855, by John Stoughton, p. 423.

It is, moreover, a very foolish thing for us to attempt to marshal the course of God's providence according to our preconceptions and narrow judgments of what is consistent and right. No human philosophy has ever yet been able to cast its boldest guesses half way to the sublimity of the divine plans and purposes. We have justly been compared with children playing on the seashore, now and then picking up a few beautiful pebbles or shells, but with the great ocean of God's thoughts lying all undiscovered before us. We may wonder, and question, and debate; but all the fabrics of our wisdom are utterly overwhelmed by the first swell from those mysterious depths. People may ask how it is that the great Author of Christianity has permitted the history of its realization to include so much that is painful and revolting; how it is that He did not keep unpolluted His own sacred institutions-that He did not save the light from being dimmed-that He did not preserve the Church an unblighted garden, a home of unruffled love. We can only answer, that His ways are not as our ways, nor His thoughts as our thoughts. The truth is, that God's universe throughout is a very different realm from what man's wisdom would have made it. The human ideal of what a world should be-of what a system of creation should be-of what an order of moral government should be-of what a revelation from heaven should be-is a frail conceit, dashed to atoms the moment it encounters God's actual world, government or word. And the Church is only a more mysterious and more miraculous part of a grand system of mysteries and miracles, as wide as space, and stretching through eternity. It is therefore the part of piety and true wisdom to accept God's word as it is, and facts as they are, without interposing barriers to the reception of the truth, by our philosophizing and vain imaginings as to how things should be.

It is also to be remarked that the history of the Church, as we have found it projected in the seven Epistles, accords very well with the history of the universe in general. It is only a smaller circle within a larger of the same sort. "God revealed truth and duty to angels in heaven. He did the same to Adam and Eve on earth. They were all at first perfect, according to their nature. The greater Church above was pure and holy-the lesser Church below had on it no taint. Then a part of the celestial Ecclesia apostatized; morning stars fell; sons of God kept not their first estate. The little terrestrial Ecclesia, as a whole, was disobedient; as its members multiplied, they corrupted religion, accepted shadows for substances, and went fearfully astray. Here, then, we have examples of responsible creatures having before them divine communications full of holiness and love, while they are either in declared hostility to the gracious message and law, or else keeping hollow peace, and paying hypocritical deference. Infinite power and goodness have not prevented such a collision, nor excluded such an alliance. Evil exists in this world and in other worlds. Is it out of harmony with that fact, that evil should be found in Christendom? The analogy between the corruptions of the Christian religion, and the prior corruptions of reason and conscience-between the introduction of sin among angels, and the appearance of sin among Christians--is obvious enough. There is only this difference: that whereas in the earlier case there was apostasy after perfection--a departure from the ideal after a full realization of it-in the latter case there has never been full perfection; at the beginning, the ideal was not more than partially realized. The first fall was deeper than the second, and far more wonderful. If nature be corrupted, is it so great a marvel that revelation should be perverted? Amidst the raging of moral disease, is the mystery much increased when we see mortals resisting or misapplying the remedy? How could human sin and folly, prevalent everywhere, be kept out of Christendom, without a miracle very different from, and far greater than, any which the Bible relates?" So Stoughton has well put the case.[30] Why, then, should we become so disturbed and unsettled at the prophetic portraiture of a continuously corrupting Christendom, down even to the very end of the dispensation? Nay, why should we entertain the idea of an end at all, except upon the underlying assumption, either, as we hold, that it was never meant to be that final and universally effective thing which some have erroneously conceived it to be, or that there has been some disastrous miscarriage in its aim?

[30] "Ages of Christendom," pp. 426-428.

Neither does it compromise the perfection or the divinity of Christianity, that so large a part of its history, even to the end, is a history of corruption and apostasy. The ideal of a thing may be perfect, and the realization of it be very different. Crimes argue nothing against the excellence of the laws by which they are condemned and punished. No more is the Gospel responsible for man's perversions of it, or for the defections which it denounces. Nay, these very apostasies help to evidence its divinity. Having foretold, warned against and condemned them from the commencement, their actual occurrence is proof that it is from Him who knew the end of all things from the beginning. The very announcements of the Gospel, and all its original and authoritative records, predicted "a falling away," the coming of "false prophets in sheep's clothing," a "departing from the faith," the bringing in of "damnable heresies," and all varieties and forms of evil with which the Church has hitherto been marred and disgraced. The darkest pages of its history are just what was foreseen.

Ere it came,
Its shadow, stretching far and wide, was known,
And two who looked beyond the visible sphere
Gave notice of its coming: he who saw
The Apocalypse, and he of elder time,
Who, in awful vision of the night,
Saw the four kingdoms, distant as they were.

Had it not been so, then these sad disasters might weigh to overturn our faith; but with the whole story of Christendom traced out in advance, in the foretellings of its founders, and the facts in all their details coinciding with the predictions, so contrary to all man's anticipations and ideas, we are assured of the presence of superhuman foresight, and of a wisdom which could only come from God.

Nor does it follow that we must consider the Gospel a failure because of these augmenting defections. If it had been stated in the New Testament that the Gospel was never to be misapprehended or denied by its professors; that the heavenly gift could never be soiled by earthly touch; that the circle of the Church should be forever free from Satanic invasion; that no heresies, schisms, inconsistencies, falsehoods, frauds, hypocrisies or crimes should ever be found in ecclesiastical annals; and that the career of the Church should be like a pure and peaceful river, unobstructed in its flow, unpolluted in its waters, and ever expanding through the centuries, until the world should be covered with the ocean of its outpoured blessings; then, indeed, such obscurations of the sunny picture would necessitate the admission that Christianity has failed. But no such things are written in the New Testament. The very reverse is found in every allusion which it makes to the estate of the Church in this world, or to the nature and object of this dispensation. Christ's own miraculous ministry gathered around Him but a "little flock," and one of them was a devil. The highest expectation of Paul in his great labours, was that he "might save some." James declared the object of the offer of God's grace to the Gentiles to be, "to take out of them a people for His name," and that "to this agree the words of the prophets." (Acts 15:14-15.) The very designation of the true subjects of divine grace (εκκλησια) singles them out as exceptional to the general mass; as elected and chosen ones, in whose high privileges the great multitudes in every age have no part. And he who looks upon the present Gospel, simply as we now have it, as meant, equipped, and ordained, for the conversion of all mankind, and the recovery of the whole world to holiness, believes what the Scriptures do not teach, and is expecting what God has nowhere promised. There is not a respectable creed in all Christendom that embodies any such doctrine. On the contrary, the fundamental Confession of Protestants condemns, as "Jewish notions," all idea "that, prior to the resurrection of the dead, the godly shall get the sovereignty in the world, and the wicked be brought under in every place."[31] In like manner, the Latter Confession of Helvetia condemns "the Jewish dreams, that before the judgment there shall be a golden world in the earth, and that the godly shall possess the kingdoms of the world, their wicked enemies being trodden under foot; for the Evangelical truth (Matthew 24:1-51 and Matthew 25:1-46, and Luke 21:1-38) and the apostolic doctrine (in the 2 Timothy 3:1-17 and 2 Timothy 4:1-22) are found to teach far otherwise."[32] Luther says: "This is not true, and is really a trick of the devil, that people are led to believe that the whole world shall become Christian. It is the devil's doing, in order to darken sound doctrine, and to prevent it from being rightly understood.... Therefore, it is not to be admitted that the whole world and all mankind shall believe on Christ; for we must perpetually bear the sacred cross, that they are the majority who persecute the saints."[33] Melancthon also puts it forth, as part of the essential faith, that the Church in this life is never to attain a position of universal triumph and prosperity, but is to remain depressed, and subject to afflictions and adversities, until the period of the resurrection of the dead.[34] All that God has promised concerning His Church in this dispensation, is, that by it the offer of salvation shall be made to mankind in general; that the preaching of the Gospel shall be effective to the taking out of an elect people for His name; and that Christ shall have His acknowledged representatives in every generation. No one pretends that there has been any failure in these respects. And as the great apostasies of the past argue no deficiency or miscarriage in these particulars, so, in all time to come, if but here and there a few faithful ones be found, it will be enough to vindicate every promise which the Church has on this side of the day of judgment.

[31] John Conrad Goebel, in his sermons on the Augsburg Confession, interprets this article as repudiating the doctrine of the conversion of the world, and declares that "the idea of a golden age in this world, before the resurrection of the dead, is a mere phantasm, not only contrary to the entire Holy Scripture, but especially contrary to the clear and lucid prophecies of the Lord Jesus Christ and His beloved apostles, where they speak of the times immediately preceding the day of judgment-- Matthew 24:23; 1 Timothy 4:1; 2 Timothy 3:1; 2 Peter 3:3; and other places, where more may be seen upon the subject. Nothing is there said or predicted of a golden age, but only crosses and tribulations, which touch all the estates of the world. Concerning ecclesiastical affairs, it was predicted that in the last times many false Christs and false prophets shall arise, and shall do great signs and wonders, and deceive, if it were possible, the very elect. Concerning hearers, it was predicted that love should wax cold in the hearts of many, and faith wane to such a degree that Christ himself asks: 'When the Son of Man cometh, shall He find faith on the earth?' Will that be a golden age? Concerning matters of state, it was predicted that unrighteousness shall sway them, and there shall be wars and rumours of wars, nation rising against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. Will that be a golden age? Concerning the family, it was predicted that the son shall be against the father, the daughter against her mother, and that a man's foes shall be those of his own house. Will that be a golden age? Concerning common life, it was predicted that there shall be distress of people on earth, and trembling, and fainting for fear, and for looking after the things that are to come upon the earth, and tribulation such as was not from the beginning and never shall be again. Will that be a golden age? And if we will only consider this matter a little in the fear of God, it will be seen that this fanatical notion contradicts all Scripture, as it is contrary to this article of our common Christianity.... Here on earth, while the world lasts, we are in the militant Church, and have to suffer as God wills, waiting patiently for the true golden age, and the kingdom of the adorable Trinity-not in this world here on earth, but in the future kingdom of eternal glory and blessedness."--Die XXI Art. Aug. Conf. in Predigen Erhlârt, pp. 1256-59.

A recent writer (Das Tausend jârige Reich gehôrt nicht der Vergangenheit, sondern der Zukunft an: Gütersloh, 1860) also maintains that this article of the Confession condemns the modern ideas of the universal conversion of the world in the present order of things.

[32] See Hall's Protestant Confessions, pp. 88, 106.

[33] "Das ist nicht wahr, und hats eigentlich der Teuful zugerichtet, das man gläubt, die ganze Welt werde Christen werden. Der Teufel hats darum gethan, das er die recht-schaffene Lehre verdunkelte, das man sie nimmer recht verstünde. Darum hüte eich dafür.... Darum müst ihres nicht also verstehen, das die ganze Welt und alle Menchen an Christum werden glaüben; denn wir müssen immer das heilige creuz haben, dass ihr das mehrere Theil sind, die die Christen verfolgen."--Walch's Luther, vol. xi, cob. 1082-83.

[34] "Scimus item, quod Ecclesia in hoc vita subjecta sit cruci," etc.--Mel. Op. Corp. Ref., vol. xxvi. p. 361.

We do not regard the Mosaic dispensation as a failure because the Jews as a body perverted it by their traditions, and crucified Him for whose kingdom it was given as the means of their preparation. It was never intended to supersede voluntary obedience on their part. They had opportunity to become the Lord's ransomed ones and to attain the highest honours of the kingdom. There was not a promise but was yea and amen, if they had been willing to comply with the conditions of it. But, as a people, they would not hearken; apostatized, and were rejected. But the purposes of the dispensation did not fail. It was competent to do all that it proposed, and did prepare a people for the Lord, and effectually filled its place in the ongoing of the history of God's vast plans of mercy. And what the former dispensation was to the Jewish nation, the Gospel is to Christendom. The Christian Church is only a graft upon the same original stem. It has characteristics of its own, but its aim and underlying substance are essentially the same. Its promises are all conditioned after the same manner as the covenant with the natural posterity of Abraham. The breaking off of the graft cannot therefore be considered any more disastrous to the efficiency of the Gospel, than the breaking off of the "natural branches." The cases are precisely parallel, and the argument can only apply in one case as in the other. The Church of the old covenant apostatized, and was cast away; but it accomplished God's purposes, which still went on as effectually as if no such defection had occurred. The Church of the new covenant may prove equally faithless, as all the prophecies show that it will; and God may fulfil His threat also not to spare it; and still no hindrance come to the progress of His great redemptive administrations. Man's perverseness surely cannot unmake God's purposes, or disarrange the divine plans. The Church will still fill out its place in the chain of the economies of His grace.

It is also distinctly told us, that the devil is the prince and god of this age; that Christ's ministers in this dispensation are never anything but ambassadors at a foreign court; that the saints are always mere pilgrims and strangers on the earth; that the Gospel is ever to be preached only as a witness to the nations; that when the Son of Man cometh, he shall hardly find faith on the earth; that the days in which He shall come will be evil days, like the days of Noah before the flood; and that the judgment will find mankind banded together in grand confederations of unparalleled rebellion and wickedness. And how thinking people can take in these unmistakable statements, and still cling to a theory of Providence which would make the plainly predicted apostasy of Christendom equivalent to a failure of the plans and promises of God, I cannot understand.

But I may not dwell longer upon this topic now. Whatever defections or judgments befall the nominal Church in any age, this is true, and clearly foreshown in these Epistles: that God is never without His witness upon the earth. With all the waning love, and false apostles, and Nicolaitane practices of Ephesus, there were some who could not bear those who were evil; and who endured, laboured and suffered for the name of Jesus, and whose fidelity is to be rewarded with the joys of Paradise. With all the poverty and tribulation and reproach of the Smyrnaotes, and the false ones of Satan's synagogue by whom they were afflicted, there were some rich in grace, faithful to the last, and destined to wear the crown of life, unhurt of the second death. With the proximity of the Church of Pergamos to Satan's throne, and the presence in it of the advocates of adulterous alliances, and systematizers of usurpation and evil, it had members who held fast to the Saviour's name, and kept the faith steadfast unto death, who are to receive of the hidden manna, and feast on heavenly bread, and wear the engraved gem of celestial privilege and honour. Even in Thyatira, where Jezebel herself enacted her damning uncleannesses, there was a remnant who kept aloof from Satan's depths, and wrought the deeds of faith and charity, and made good their title to share in the judgment of nations, and to receive the morning star. The deadness of Sardis was not so pervading, but a few names were left which had not defiled their garments, which had received the truth, and taught it, and lived it, and which are to walk with Christ in white, and to be confessed in heaven. The Philadelphians, though but a handful in the midst of false ones, and dwellers among those too much at ease in worldly comfort, are still a band of earnest brothers, on whom the doors cannot be shut, at whose feet Satan's synagogue shall be humbled, and who are to be kept out of the trying hour, transferred to the celestial temple, and adorned with the name of God, and the new Jerusalem, and the new name of Christ himself. And in among the sickening lukewarmness, pride, boasting and emptiness of the Laodiceans, there are some chastened ones whom Jesus loves, and some who hear His voice, and open unto Him, and sup with Him, and whose destiny is to sit with Him on His everlasting throne. And if in these seven pictures the whole length of the Church's history is embraced, the fact stands out, in noonday clearness, that God has His saints in every age.

When we survey the characteristics of our times,--the unrighteousness,the avarice, the lustfulness, the untruthfulness, the hypocrisy, the impiety, the crime, the hollow-heartedness, and the untold hidden iniquities which prevail in all circles of Church, business and State; when we consider the wickednesses which are perpetrated by people who call themselves Christians, and the shameless worldliness of professors of religion, and the wreck of all distinctive doctrinal belief, and the prostitutions of the house of God and the sacred desk itself to vanity, politics, selfishness, sensuality, and base trickery in the name of Jesus; when we look at the insubordination which is left to run riot in the great majority of so-called Christian families, and the secret vices and concealed blood-guilty crimes of so-called Christian husbands and wives, and of the utter moral emptiness, headiness and incontinence of the mass of the busiest and noisiest modern religionists; when we contemplate the goings forth of sin in these days, like Death on the pale horse, with hell following in its train, and come to count up the names of those in our congregations whom we can confidently set down as true and thorough saints of God,-we are sometimes tempted, with the Psalmist, to say, "All men are liars," and to doubt whether God has not resigned His dominion over mankind, and abandoned them to be drifted, by the whirlwinds of their own passions, to irremediable ruin. But, with all the hard things which we are in honesty and fairness compelled to write against the present population of Christendom, God has not left Himself without witnesses, and still has His true people, who have not kissed their hands nor bowed their knees to the reigning idolatry of the times. Earthy and vile as the congest may be, there is gold in it, as there was an Enoch and a Noah in the generation before the flood, and a Lot even in Sodom itself. Amid all Christianity's corruptions, there has always been some standing out against them. The pure ideal has never failed to produce some proximate realization of itself. Dreary as the annals of the Church appear, both in prophetic and historic records, the student of them still finds his path skirted with spiritual verdure; and in the distant scenery, examples of faith, purity, love, heroism, devotion and obedience, are never once entirely out of view, the loveliest often being found in the by-paths, and encountered where they would be least expected. Even in the darkest eras, imbedded in neglected chronicles, noble names are to be found, sparkling with the radiance of every Christian grace. And by a sort of system of compensation, in nearly every instance, while darkness and death reigned in one place, light and life were vigorous at another. "Contemporary with the waning of piety in Antioch, was its waxing in Milan. When the Churches of Alexandria and Carthage were sinking in the decrepitude of formalism, the Churches of Gaul were battling the vices of imperial civilization, and the rudeness and disorder of barbarism. The era of the early growth of Rome's impious pretensions was the era of Ireland's light and life, holiness and beauty. While Mahomet was God's avenger on Syria and Egypt, the monks of Iona were studying their Bible, and Scotch missionaries were crossing the Anglo-Saxon border and entering the heart of Germany. As Gregory IV was encouraging the sons of the Emperor Lewis in parricidal wars, Claude was preaching the truth at Turin, and adorning it with a holy life. When the pontifical court at Avignon was disgracing the name of religion by luxury and vice, pious men were writing books, and preaching sermons, and practising godly virtue, in Teutonic cities. When the night of superstition and despotism was getting blacker than ever in France, the morning star of the Reformation rose on England. When Italian fields were covered with rotten stubble, Bohemia was whitening to the harvest."[35] And so, in all the ages, there have never failed some blessed offsets to the ever downward tendency of things. Nor will it ever be, in the darkest and dreadest days of Christendom's apostasy, that there will be none to stand up for God and His pure truth, or that His true prople shall fail from the earth.

[35] Stoughton's Ages of Christendom, p. 431.

Who, then, are they? And what are their characteristics? Nowhere in the Scriptures may we find a more direct and satisfactory answer to these inquiries, than is furnished us in these Epistles. Christ himself here looks down with flaming eyes upon His people, and with a certainty infallible points His finger to those whom He acknowledges, and for whom His everlasting rewards are in reserve. The field which thus opens to our survey is full of inviting riches of instruction and Evangelic truth, in which it would be well for us to linger, and to wander back and forth to note each word, and hint, and incident. The merest glance is all that we can now attempt; but even that will be enough to reveal, in vivid outline, who and what are the saints, and the partakers in the honours of transforming grace.

First of all, they are Ephesians--people of warm and kindled hearts, glowing with the impulses of ardent love and zeal toward Christ, as the "chief among ten thousand, and altogether lovely."

Talk they of morals, O thou bleeding Lamb!
The best morality is love to Thee.

Love to Jesus is the root of all true Christianity. It is the perfection of faith, and it is the fulfilling of the law. The heart that takes fire at the mention of the Saviour's name,-that swells with sympathetic ardour at the story of His life, and deeds, and death, and triumph; that looks to Him in His hidden home as the Lord of its affections and the chief joy of its life; that is bound and drawn, by sweet constraints of living gratitude, to untiring devotion and obedience; that is not content but in leaning with John upon His breast, or clinging with Mary to His blessed feet; that thrills with the contemplation of seeing Him as He is, and being with Him forever; and that pines, and sighs, and ever prays in His absence, "Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly,"--is the heart most surely in harmony with heaven, and on which the favour of the Lord of the Church is most unmistakably set. The primal source of all defective saintship, and of all that the Divine Judge censures in any of His professed people, is the wane of love. Let a man be alive in love to God, and make it his joy to give his whole heart to Jesus, and his title is clear, and his acceptance sure.

And as the fruit of their affection, Christ's true people are further characterized by unswerving and uncompromising devotion to their profession. They have taken Christ for their Lord, and they will know no obedience but obedience to Him. For Him they labour, for Him they endure, and His they count themselves to be, to the full extent of all they have and are. Pledged to stand out unshaken against whatsoever is wrong, they will have no communion with evil ones, and will not fellowship with such as say they are apostles and are not, and hate and loathe the deeds of tyranny which would tread down any in whom God's image is, and are not afraid to speak their condemnation of wrongdoers, whatever may be their pretensions or their place. There is a tendency, in these days, to account that the purest Christianity which has the largest "charity," as it is called, and toleration for everybody and everything, and which disdains social differences for opinion's sake, or separations and controversies on account of the faith. But that is not the sort of Christianity which our Lord and Judge commends in these Epistles. Those whom He here approves as His true people, are such as cannot bear those who are evil, such as test men's claims to apostolicity, and expose their falsities, and hate the deeds of the Nicolaitanes, and stand to the truth as they have received it from the Lord, earnestly contending for the faith.

Another characteristic is, that they are poor, and reproached, and tried, and often persecuted unto death. Smyrnaotes, to a greater or less extent, are all the true saints of God. It seems to be one of the unvarying laws of this dispensation, that the absence of censure from heaven conducts through affliction on earth. The richest and most independent man, if he be a true Christian, is quite convinced that he is one of the very poorest and most helpless of God's creatures. He is poor in spirit, and his earthly possessions are no riches to him. And if any would live godly in Christ Jesus, it is useless to think of exemption from trials, reproaches and persecutions. People may serve the devil all their lives; and if they only manage to do it decently, not a word from the world shall ever be said against them, and not a frown need they fear. But let them start in earnest, honest Christianity, and they are snubbed, and sneered at, and put out of the synagogue, and made to hear of it and feel it at many points. Pious people, somehow, have ever been afflicted people. It seems to be God's plan to make his children ill at ease in this world, that they may the more earnestly long for that which is to come. The mass of them have been martyrs, living martyr lives, if not dying martyr deaths. The holiest men are always suffering men. There is no saintship which is exempt from trial, sorrow, and this world's frowns. Nor may any one be a Christian of the purer and better sort, with whom the world is satisfied, on whom earthly fortune ever smiles, and of whom no spiteful ill is ever said. Woe unto you, when all speak well of you, is the word of Christ himself.

But along with this, we find another feature. Afflicted, poor and persecuted, God's true people cheerfully bear whatever He appoints, and keep Christ's word of patient endurance. The saints of Ephesus did bear for the Saviour's name, and fainted not. Those of Smyrna were faithful to the last, as illustrated in the case of Polycarp, who preferred burning to a compromise of his faith, and found place for songs and thanksgivings amid the flames that consumed him. Those of Pergamos held fast Christ's name, and did not deny the faith of Him, and stood out in glad adherence to the truth, under the very sword of the executioner. Those of Thyatira and Philadelphia are specially commended for their endurance in the midst of falsity and suffering, and held fast in joyous prospect of the speedy coming of their Divine Deliverer. And so it is ever the character of God's saints to choose rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season, esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than all the treasures in Egypt.

And if there is yet another mark of saintship singled out in these Epistles, it is the profound regard which true believers have for the recompense of the reward at the coming and revelation of Jesus Christ. There is a Paradise of God on which their hopes are set. There is a crown of life at which they aim. There is a heavenly sustenance and gem of celestial privilege and honour, and a sceptre of holy dominion, and an inheritance of the morning star, and an acknowledgment before God and angels, and an enrolment among principalities in the eternal empire, and a session with Jesus on His everlasting throne, on which their hearts are set. They believe that these things exist, and that they are meant for them, and that it is the merciful will of God that they should have them; and they wait for them, looking not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. Seeing that Christ has given these promises, they embrace them, and confess that they are strangers and pilgrims on the earth, "looking for that blessed hope, the glorious appearing of God our Saviour."

What, then, is to become of these people? Many of them have fallen asleep; and daily one and another of them, in every age, has been consigned to the tomb. Scattered over all the world their wasting ashes lie, whilst the places that once knew them know them no more. But these Epistles take very little account of death. The most that they say of it is that Christ has passed through it and revived, and that He has the keys of both it and Hades. Since then, it is hardly any more accounted death. The addresses to the Churches are given as if those same Churches were to continue through all the ages, and to meet the scenes of the great consummation just as they were living at the time. Hence, the resurrection also is but inferentially embraced. It is, indeed, presupposed in all the seven promises; but the short hiatus in the lives of individual saints is treated as hardly worth being embraced among the greater things of this vision. The return of Jesus and His Apocalypse to His Church is the master theme; and the preparation for that, and the rewards then to come to the saints, absorbs everything. And when Christ comes, it will be the same with those faithful ones of His that sleep, as with those who may be still alive and waiting for Him. There will be no advantage to the one class above the other as respects what is to follow. When the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and the trump of God, first of all, the saints that sleep in Him shall rise. This is plainly taught us in the apostolic messages. And when they have been thus recalled, whatever is further said is the same with regard to them as to those living saints who shall not have died at all.

One very striking statement concerning them, is that they are to be kept out of the hour of temptation-out of that season of trial which is then to come upon the whole world, to try those who dwell upon the earth instead of cherishing a heavenly citizenship. (See Revelation 3:10.) How this deliverance is to be wrought, St. Paul explains. The saints, both living and resurrected, are to be miraculously snatched away from earth to heaven, suddenly, and in the twinkling of an eye. His own unmistakable words are: "Then we who are living, who remain, shall be caught up together with them (the resurrected ones) in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air." (1 Thessalonians 4:17.) The Saviour himself has also given assurances to the same effect, where He says: "I tell you, in that night there shall be two in one bed: the one shall be taken; and the other shall be left. Two women shall be grinding together: the one shall be taken, and the other shall be left. Two shall be in the field: the one shall be taken, and the other left. And they answered and said unto him, Where [or Whither], Lord? And he said unto them, Wheresoever the Body is, thither will the eagles be gathered together." (Luke 17:34-37.) And to this same marvellous occurrence, which Paul speaks of as one of the great mysteries (1 Corinthians 15:51), do the words at the head of this discourse refer. "I saw," says John, "and behold, a door set open in the heaven, and the former voice which I heard as of a trumpet, speaking with me, saying, Come up hither."

That door opened in heaven is the door of the ascension of the saints. That trumpet voice is the same which Paul describes as recalling the sleepers in Jesus, and to which the Saviour refers as the signal by which His elect are gathered from the four winds, but which we have no reason to suppose shall be heard or understood except by those whom it is meant to summon to the skies. And that "Come up hither" is for every one in John's estate, even the gracious and mighty word of the returning Lord himself, by virtue of which they that wait for Him shall renew their strength, and mount up with wings as eagles. (Isaiah 40:31.) And thus, as the Psalmist sung, the Lord will hide them in the secret place of His presence from the vexation of man, and screen them in a tabernacle from the contradiction of tongues. (Psalms 31:19-20.)

Such, then, is the termination of the earthly career of God's elect, for which the saints of every age have waited, longed and prayed.[36]

[36] "At the voice of the archangel, the dead saints rise from the dust; the living saints, in a moment--in the twinkling of an eye--are changed; and both together are rapt up far above the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air, long before He is seen by the inhabitants of the earth."--Cunningham on Apocalypse, 3d. ed., p. 491.

"The being taken up to meet the Lord before the time of trial and judgment, would seem to be the manifest import of the promise to the faithful, in the Epistle to the Church at Philadelphia, as also that of our Lord's exhortation in Luke 21:36."--Richard Chester, Vicar of Ballyclough, Mallow.

"Ere judgment comes on Christendom, the true Church will have been, like Enoch, translated to heaven.... We are not comforted by the assurance of our being gathered to the grave in peace, but by the hope of being gathered to meet the Lord in the air, so that, when the judgments come, we shall not be amid the scene on which they are poured, but in the heavens whence they issue."--Plain Papers, pp. 94-96.

"It is evident, from 2 Corinthians 5:4, that we are not to conceive of the transfiguration of the body as taking place at the end and in the general resurrection, for the apostle wishes it for his own person instead of death."--Auberlen on Dan. and Rev., p. 332.

"Daniel appears to be a type of those kept out of the hour of temptation. When all nations, kindreds and people are required to worship the image of the plain of Dura, he is not there."--Apocalypse Expounded, vol. i, p. 207.

"John 14:1-3, doth absolutely require an assumption from the earth of all the saints, after the same manner as Christ was taken up. And to this great head of doctrine, all those legends of the Catholic Church, concerning the assumption of the blessed Virgin, and other saints, do point. By being taken up, to be clothed upon by our house which is from heaven, I believe that Christ's people will be delivered out of their tribulation."--Irving on the Apoc., vol. ii, p. 1024.

And such is the next great scene which may now be any day expected. I know of nothing in the prophecies of God, unless it should be the mere deepening of the signs that have already appeared, which yet remains to be fulfilled before this sudden summons from the skies: "Come, my people, enter thou into thy chambers, and shut thy doors about thee: hide thyself as it were a little moment, until the indignation be overpast; for, behold, the Lord cometh out of his place to punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity." (Isaiah 26:20-21.) Any one of these days or nights, and certainly before many more years have passed, all this shall be accomplished. Some of these days or nights,-while men are busy with the common pursuits and cares of life, and everything is rolling on in its accustomed course,-unheralded, unbelieved, and unknown to the gay world, here one, and there another, shall secretly disappear, "caught up" like Enoch, who "was not found because God had translated him." Invisibly, noiselessly, miraculously, they shall vanish from the company and fellowship of those about them, and ascend to their returning Lord. Strange announcements shall be in the morning papers of missing ones. Strange accounts shall be whispered around in the circles of business and society. And for the first time will apostate Christendom, and the slow in heart to believe all that the prophets have written, have the truth brought home, that no such half-Christianity as theirs is sufficient to put men among the favourites of the Lord.

Brethren and friends, these are neither dreams nor fables. They are realities, set forth in the infallible truth of God, and as literally true as anything else in the inspired Word. And as you value the prize of our high calling in Christ Jesus, and take this holy book as an unfailing guide, be not faithless, but believing. And if you feel yourself unready for such events, do not think of setting them aside by scoffs and sneers. If they are in the purpose of God, as He so plainly says they are, and as I conscientiously believe they are, your unbelief cannot alter them. Better bestir yourself to be prepared, with your loins girded and your lamp trimmed and burning. There is chance for you yet to be among these favoured ones whom God has engaged thus to keep out of the judgment plagues and sorrows; but that this opportunity shall remain to you for another year, or month, or week, or day, or hour, no living man or angel of heaven is authorized to promise. What you do must be done quickly. To your knees, then, to your Bibles, and to the mercy seat of your God, O man, O woman! "Rend your heart, and not your garments, and turn unto the Lord your God." Let not another day pass leaving you still in your sins; "for in such an hour as you think not, the Son of man cometh." And may God in mercy grant us each the grace and diligence to be found of Him in peace, without spot, and blameless.

Revelation 4:2-11

Lecture 9

(Revelation 4:1-11)


Revelation 4:1-11. (Revised Text.) After these things I saw, and behold, a door set open in the heaven, and the former voice which I heard, as of a trumpet, speaking with me, saying, Come up hither, and I will show thee the things which must take place after these things.

Immediately I became in the Spirit, and, behold, a throne was set in the heaven, and upon the throne one sitting; and he that was sitting [was] like in appearance to a jasper and a sardine stone, and a rainbow encircled the throne, in appearance like to an emerald; and around the throne twenty-four thrones, and upon the twenty-four thrones elders sitting, clothed in white garments, and on their heads golden crowns. And out of the throne go forth lightnings, and voices, and thunders; and seven torches of fire burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God: and before [or, the prospect from] the throne as it were a glassy sea, like unto crystal; and amidst the throne, and around the throne, four living ones, full of eyes before and behind; and the living one the first like a lion, and the second living one like a young ox, and the third living one having the face like a man, the fourth living one like a flying eagle. And the four living ones, each one of them had around them six wings apiece, and within they are full of eyes; and they have not rest day and night, saying, Holy, Holy, Holy [repeated eight times in Codex Sinaiticus], Lord God the Almighty, who was, and who is, and who is to come.

And whensoever the living ones give glory, and honour, and thanks to Him that sitteth on the throne, to Him that liveth for the ages of the ages, the twenty-four elders fall down before Him that sitteth on the throne, and worship Him that liveth for the ages of the ages, and cast their crowns before the throne, saying: Thou art worthy, O Lord and our God, to receive the glory, and honour, and the power, because Thou didst create all things, and by Thy will they were, and were created.

I have said that this open door in heaven, and this calling up of the Apocalyptic seer through that door into heaven, indicate to us the manner in which Christ intends to fulfil His promise to keep certain of His saints "out of the hour of temptation;" and by what means it is that those who "watch and pray always" shall "escape" the dreadful sorrows with which the present world, in its last years, will be visited. Those of them that sleep in their graves, shall be recalled from among the dead; and those of them who shall be found living at the time, "shall be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye;" and both classes "shall be caught up together in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air." The same voice which John heard, even "the voice as of a trumpet," whether dead or living, they shall hear, saying to them, "Come up hither." And there shall attend it a change and transfer as sudden and miraculous as in his case. And as the seven Epistles show us these faithful ones in their sufferings, conflicts, virtues, and victories on earth, the chapter before us carries us up to the contemplation of their estate and dignities in heaven. It is high and peculiarly holy ground that here rises to our view, and it becomes us to venture upon it with measured and reverent steps. It would seem, indeed, as if it were rather a subject for angels than for men; but God hath caused it to be written for us, and has pronounced special blessing upon them that read, hear, and keep what has been thus recorded for our learning. "Secret things belong unto the Lord," and we may not trespass on that reserved, mysterious realm; "but those things which are revealed, belong unto us, and to our children forever;" and it is our duty, as well as our privilege, humbly to inquire, and to search diligently into what has been prophesied of the grace and the glory which is to come to the saints.

Discarding, then, that false humility, which is the offspring or the cloak of spiritual sloth, let us, in the fear of God, go forward with our investigations, and stir ourselves up to the effort to obtain some distinct ideas of what the blessed Saviour has thought it so important to show to His Church. Happy shall we be if the sublime King but admit us into His court, though He may not now take us into His counsel.

We notice:



And may Almighty God open our hearts to the subject, and the subject to our hearts!

I. The scene of this vision is in heaven;--not in the temple, as some have represented. The door which John saw, was an opening "in the heaven." The voice that he heard came from above. It commanded him to "Come up." And it was potent; for "immediately" he "became in the Spirit." It wrought an instantaneous rapture, so that the next opening of his eyes disclosed his presence in a supernal region. There is no allusion to Jerusalem or to its temple. The whole scene is heavenly, and relates only to what is heavenly. It belongs to a realm above the earth, and above all the sanctuaries of the earth.

The Rabbins dreamed of seven heavens. Paul speaks of three, in the highest of which he "heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter." But as John was commanded to write what he saw, and to communicate it to the Churches, and Paul was forbidden to describe what he saw and heard, this would seem to be a different heaven from that called "the third." The truth is, that anything above the earth-the upper air, the region of the clouds, as well as the region of the stars, and beyond the stars-the scriptures call "heaven." Other circumstances connected with this subject indicate, that what is here referred to, is simply the sky. "The sign of the Son of Man" is to be displayed in the empyrean, no further off from the earth than to be visible to men, yet it is to appear "in heaven." The place where the returning Saviour is to meet His resurrected and translated saints, is, "in the air"-"in the clouds." The heaven of this vision would therefore seem to be, indefinitely, the regions above us-the firmament-the higher portions of the atmosphere which envelops the earth. This, however, I take to be certain, that the location of what John beheld, was not earth, but above the earth, and quite unconnected with the earth.

Whether there was a literal, bodily transportation of the seer from the earth to the regions of space, is not stated, nor inferable from the description. Perhaps the apostle himself was not able to perceive how it was. Paul could not tell whether he was "in the body, or out of the body," when he "was caught up." This only he knew, that he was somehow present in "the third heaven," and that that presence was the same to him as a bodily transportation, equally real, and equally effective. It was the same in John's case. He tells us that he was called by a mighty voice to come up into heaven, and straightway "became in the Spirit"-in some mysterious, miraculous, ecstatic state, wrought by the power of God-which was, to all intents and purposes, a complete translation from Patmos to the hidden sky. He was not dead; he was not in a mere swoon; he had all his senses entire; his ears heard; his eyes saw; his heart felt; his capacity to weep and to speak continued with him; and the thing was, in all respects, the same as a bodily carrying up to the heavenly sphere, where he found what he was commanded to describe.

We notice also, that this vision sets forth what is to be after the fulfilment of the vision and letters concerning the Churches. The links of consecutiveness are distinctly expressed, and are by no means to be overlooked. The declared object for which the apostle was called up into the sky, was to be shown-not what existed in heaven at the time, as some have mistakenly thought-but "the things which must take place after" what he had already seen and described. The seven Churches, in all the amplitude of their representative significance, were first to run their course, and the order of things to which they belonged was to touch upon its end, before one jot of what is here portrayed was to be realized.[36] As John was called up just to be shown "the things which must take place after these things," of course, all that he saw and heard consequent upon that rapture, can only be referred to the period next following the things of the first vision. That vision, as we have been led to conclude, and as we think must be admitted, embraces the whole continuity of the dispensation under which we are now living, and takes in the entire earthly Church-state, from the time of the apostles to the end of the age; which is at Christ's coming again to receive His people to himself. That "end" we regard as very near; but so long as it is yet future, the time to which this vision refers is also future. It relates to things which do not exist as yet, and which cannot become reality till that to which they are specifically said to be subsequent is fulfilled. It is therefore a picture of things in the sky, immediately upon the first movement of the Saviour in His coming to judgment, marked by the miraculous seizing away of the saints from their associates on earth to the clouds of heaven.

[36] "From the expression, 'I will show thee what shall be after these things,' we gather, that the facts set out under this vision are subsequent to the facts set out under the former vision; that all in the former vision which cometh within the condition of time, is anterior to all in this vision which comes within the same condition."--Irving in loc.

It is also to be observed, that the things foreshown in this vision, whilst they come after the first interference with the present order, still precede the great tribulation, and the scenes of judicial visitation upon the apostate Church and the guilty world. Indeed, it is from what is here depictured, that those inflictions proceed. What John sees, is permanent. It continues through all that comes after, the same as seen at the first. The throne, the Elders, the Living ones, retain their places unchanged, and have direct connection with all that subsequently transpires. Nay, the action of the seals, in chapters six and seven which brings the great tribulation upon the world, and the still remoter action of the trumpets and vials, and the whole catena of judgments described in the afterpart of this book, proceed from, and depend more or less on, the scene of glory and power represented in these two chapters. The realization of what they describe must, therefore, fall intermediately between the first removal of saints from earth, and the forthcoming of the great troubles, and the destruction of Babylon and Antichrist. In other words, it is a scene of things to be manifested in heaven, immediately succeeding the beginning of the judgment of the Church, and preceding the judgment of the world of apostates and sinners. It is a picture of the results of the former, and of the source and instrument of the latter.

There have been writers, I will not call them interpreters, who regard the contents of these two chapters as a mere scenic exordium to the revelations that follow, intended to impress the writer or the reader's mind with the divinity and solemnity of what was to be communicated. Some have even fallen so low as to affirm that it is simply the creation of the writer's own fancy, meant to set forth how deeply he was impressed and pervaded with a sense of God's power and glory, and hence, in how fit a state he was to take in and express the mysteries of the divine purposes. For such bald rationalism I have neither sympathy nor respect. If there is anything divine in the book, and everything in it proves to me that it is divine, the announcement of the object for which John was taken up to heaven to see these sights, must also be divine. It was a trumpet-voice from heaven that made it; and its effect was instantaneously miraculous, carrying the prophet by some mysterious unlocking of his inner nature, quite away from earth. And that voice declared that John was thus called and transported to see, not what was to beget seriousness in him, or merely to persuade the reader that there was something of moment to be told, but what must take place after the fulfilment of the things pertaining to the Churches. What he was to be shown was not to prepare for the prophecy, but was itself the head and front of the prophecy. What he was to see was to become reality; it was to come to pass; it was in due time to be history and fact. And to apply this divine affirmation only to what follows these chapters, and not to what these chapters themselves contain, is like undertaking to render the play of Hamlet, with the part of Hamlet left out. No, if there is any sacred prediction in the case, these chapters are a most vital element of it, without which, indeed, the remainder is but imperfectly intelligible. And upon evidences as solid as those which prove the inspiration of this book, I hold, that these two chapters are as substantially prophetic as any other part. They do not relate directly to the earth, but they compass a very grand part of the results of God's gracious doings in the earth for all these ages past, and a very grand part of what is to affect the earth for all the recurring ages of the future.

With these points settled, we are now prepared to look at the particulars which the magnificent picture brings to our contemplation.

The first thing named, and that which is at once the central object of the vision, and of all that follows it, is a throne. The Scriptures continually speak of thrones, in connection with the sovereignty and majesty of God. They tell us that "the Lord hath prepared His throne in the heavens, and His kingdom ruleth over all." (Psalms 103:19.) Among the last words of the preceding chapter, Christ refers to His throne, and the Father's throne. And here the apostle sees "a throne in the heaven." No intimations are given of the form of the magnificent object. The throne on which Isaiah saw the Lord, was "high and lifted up;" and in another vision John saw a throne, "great and white;" but everywhere we are left to think of the power and authority of which the throne is a symbol, rather than of any particular form or material structure. A visible image was presented to the eye of the seer, but he does not stop to tell us what it was like. It was simply an undescribed, and perhaps indescribable, seat of grandeur, greatness, majesty, and dominion.

Nor was it the eternal throne of the Father, at least not in the position and relations which it occupies anterior to the time to which this vision relates. John sees it, not as long since fixed and settled in this locality and form, but just as it was taking up its rest in this place. It was being set as he was looking; ἰδου, ἑχειτο. The expression is in a tense which denotes unfinished action, reaching its completion at the time of the seeing. Dean Alford objects to the phrase "was set," as giving too much the idea that the placing of the throne formed part of the vision. But this is just exactly what the original expresses; and it is important, as showing that this vision refers to a new order of things, which first comes into being at the time to which the vision refers. The apostle's language implies, that i he act of the placing of the throne where he saw it, was only being completed at the moment of his looking. That moment was the moment of his being called up from earth into heaven. The rapture of the saints, then, is the point of transition, where the present dispensation begins to end, and another, of which this throne is the centre, takes its commencement. The passage is an exact parallel, both as to subject and phraseology, to Daniel 7:9, where the prophet says: "I beheld till the thrones were set (not cast down, as our version has it), and the Ancient of days did sit, whose throne was like the fiery flame." The vision embraced the placing of the throne, as well as the throne itself, and the locality it occupied.[37]

[37] So agrees also the author of "The Apocalypse Expounded by Scripture," vol. ii, p. 13.

"And upon the throne one sitting." There is no name mentioned, and no figure described; but we can be at no loss to distinguish who is meant. John was manifestly filled with mysterious awe, and his words sufficiently intimate that he was looking upon "the unnameable, indescribable Godhead," in which Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are consubstantial, and the same. And yet there was visible manifestation.

"He that was sitting [was] like in appearance to a jasper and a sardine stone;"--not as to shape, for Deity has no shape, but in colour and flashing brilliancy. The scriptural representations of the jasper are, that it is "most precious," crystalline, and purple in hue. The sardine, or sardius, is also described as exceedingly precious, and of a beautiful bright, red, carnation colour. It is capable of a particularly high and lasting polish. Uniting the qualities of tint and brilliancy belonging to the purer specimens of these precious gems, we have the appearance of flames, without their smokiness-a pure, purple, fiery, red, crystalline, flashing light. And this was the appearance of the unnameable and indescribable occupant of this equally indescribable throne.

"And a rainbow encircled the throne, in appearance like to an emerald." The rainbow is one of the most beautiful and majestic of earthly appearances. It is the token of God's covenant with all flesh, never again to destroy the earth or its inhabitants, as in the flood. (Genesis 9:11; Genesis 9:17). Encircling this throne, the intimation is, that, although a throne of judgment, it is not a throne of destruction, but one of conservation, which bears with it the remembrance and the stability of the ancient promise. From what the apostle subsequently saw go forth from this throne, and the shakings and overturnings in heaven and earth of which it was to be the source and means, fears might naturally arise as to the continuity of the earth as an organized structure for the habitation of God's creatures. But this rainbow around the throne forever scatters such apprehensions. All these ministrations are under the symbol of the Noachian covenant, which standeth forever. The idea that this world, and its creature inhabitants, are to pass into oblivion, is a foolish notion of poets, against which we have the special pledge and covenant of God, rehearsed in nearly every summer shower, and borne aloft as one of the glorious decorations of the judgment throne itself.

And yet, the intimation is, that the fulfilment of that covenant is not to be always in the course of nature, as we now have it. The true iris is around the throne, but there is a change in it now. Its prevailing hue is light green--"in appearance like to an emerald,"-which is an appearance having something additional to nature, or nature modified, with one part of its exalted and strengthened beyond its wont. The jasper and the sardine flash terrible glory, but over them is the soft-beaming emerald of promise and hope-mercy remembered in wrath-salvation over-spanning the appearance of consuming fire.

"And out of the throne go forth lightnings, and voices, and thunders." These demonstrate that the throne is one of judgment, and that wrath is about to proceed from it. When God was about to visit Egypt's sins upon her, He "sent thunder [in Heb. 'voices'], and hail, and fire ran along upon the ground." And Pharaoh sent and said, "Intreat the Lord that there be no more voices of God." (Exodus 9:23; Exodus 9:28.) When He wished to show Israel the terribleness of His anger with sin, there were thunders and lightnings, and a thick cloud upon the mount, and the voice of the trumpet exceeding loud." (Exodus 19:16.) When He sent forth His wrath upon the Philistines, "the Lord thundered with a great thunder on that day upon the Philistines, and discomfited them, and they were smitten before Israel." (1 Samuel 7:10.) So also was His displeasure expressed at Israel's demand for a king. Samuel said, "The Lord shall send thunder and rain [in wheat-harvest], that ye may perceive and see that your wickedness is great, which ye have done in the sight of the Lord, in asking you a king. And the Lord sent thunder and rain that day, and all the people greatly feared." (1 Samuel 12:17-18.) These instances show us, that this is not a throne of grace, but a throne of judgment. These lightnings, thunders, and voices, proceeding from it, tell of justice and wrath to be visited upon transgressors. The river of water of life is gone, and in its place is the terror and fire of judgment and death.

"And seven torches of fire burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God." These are not candlesticks or lamps within doors, but torches borne aloft without, speaking preparation for battle. When Gideon went forth in vengeance against the Midianites, bis three hundred men took each a burning torch in bis left hand, and a trumpet in bis right, "and they cried, the sword of the lord, and of Gideon." (Judges 7:16; Judges 7:20.) So in the prophetic announcement of the going forth of God's wrath upon Nineveh, the destroyer is described as displaying "flaming torches in the day of his preparation." (Nahum 2:3-4.) So the throne which is set for the judgment of the world, hath before it its "torches of fire burning," charged with the fulness of consuming vengeance upon all the enemies of God; for they are "seven." The Spirit of God, in all His plenitude, is these seven torches. That Spirit descended on Jesus as a dove; but here He is the "Spirit of judgment, the Spirit of burning." (Isaiah 4:4.) It is not peaceful light, but flaming indignation, which is betokened, which at last sets the world on fire, producing that day "that shall burn as an oven, and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble, and it shall burn them up, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch." (Malachi 4:1.) The throne speaks vengeance upon the guilty, and the Spirit of God is the spirit of the throne, the spirit of devouring fire.

"And before [or, the prospect from] the throne as it were a glassy sea, like unto crystal." When Moses, and Aaron, and Nadab, and Abihu, and the seventy elders of Israel, went up unto the Lord on Sinai, "they saw the God of Israel; and there was under His feet as it were a paved work of a sapphire stone, and as it were the body of heaven in clearness." (Exodus 24:10-11.) And in the vision of Ezekiel, the floor or plain on which the throne of God rested, was "the likeness of the firmament, as the colour of the terrible crystal." (Ezekiel 1:22.) These several descriptions explain each other. This throne, and all surrounding it, or connected with it, had its place upon a plain, which resembled a wide sea, solid, transparent, and full of inexpressible beauty, splendour, and majesty. Though in the air, it was not hung there. It had a base. There is a pavement, like a sapphire stone, like a clear, cerulean, golden mer de glace, on which it, as the whole celestial assemblage, rests; as we also read of the street of the heavenly city being "pure gold, as it were transparent glass." (Revelation 21:21.) Heaven is not a world of mists and shadows, but of substance and beautiful realities.

"And around the throne, twenty-four thrones; and upon the twenty-four thrones, Elders sitting, clothed in white garments, and on their heads golden crowns." There was more than one throne. In the centre, conspicuous, and majestic beyond description, was the throne of Deity; but in a wide circle around it were twenty-four other thrones, distinct and glorious, but smaller and lower than that which is, by eminence, called "The Throne." Our translators call them "seats;" but the original word is the same in the case of the twenty-four in the circle, as in that in the centre. They are all "seats," certainly; but a particular kind of seats, regal seats, seats of majesty and dominion, seats of royal assessorship with the enthroned One. Nor can we be much at a loss as to the persons who occupy them.

They are not angels, but human beings. This is ascertained by the song they sing, in which they speak of having been gathered out of the tribes and peoples of the earth. (Revelation 5:9.)

They are not the patriarchs, Jews, or apostles, only; for they are from "every tribe, and tongue, and people, and nation." (Revelation 5:9.)

They are not unfallen beings, but ransomed sinners; for they give honour to Christ for redeeming them--"Thou redeemedst us by Thy blood."[38] (Revelation 5:9.)

[38] Ηγὀρασας ἡμᾶς. Some critics and expositors have rejected this ἡμᾶς (US), for the reason that it is omitted in the Codex Alexandrinus, and in the Ethiopic version; though the latter is not much more than a loose paraphrase. The Codex Sinaiticus, however, which was discovered in 1860, and which is of equal antiquity and authority with the Codex Alexandrinus, contains it. The Codex Basilianus, in the Vatican, contains it. The Latin, Coptic or Memphitic, and Armenian, which are of great value, contain it. And so do all other MSS. and versions. And to discredit it, simply and only because it does not appear in that one single Codex of Alexandria, is most unreasonable and unjust to the weight of authority for its retention. Dr. Tregelles, on full examination, was firmly convinced of its right to a place in the text, before the Codex Sinaiticus appeared; and the presence of this ἡμᾶς in that MS., ought to settle the question of its genuineness forever. The evidences from the context, also argue powerfully for a construction which necessarily embraces it, whether expressed or not. We regard it as indubitably genuine. (Revelation 5:9.)

They are not disembodied spirits of the saints, but glorified subjects of grace; for they are enthroned, crowned, and robed in white, which is a fruition of blessedness and honour which is everywhere reserved till after the resurrection and the glorifying rapture. Paul tells us that he was to receive his "crown of righteousness," not at his decease, but "at that day"-the day of Christ's coming to awake and gather His saints,-and that the same is true of "all" who are to be partakers of that crown. (2 Timothy 4:8.) The entire scriptural doctrine concerning the state of the dead, forbids the idea that disembodied souls are already crowned and enthroned, although at rest in the bosom of God. Such rewards, Christ is to bring with Him (see Revelation 22:12; Revelation 11:18; Isaiah 52:11); hence, no one receives them until He comes, recalls the sleepers, and completes that redemption of power for which all things wait. (See Romans 8:22-23.) The coronation time, is the resurrection time; and no one can be crowned until he is either resurrected if dead, or translated if living. Any other doctrine overthrows some of the plainest teachings of the Scriptures, and carries confusion into the whole Christian system. And as John beholds certain subjects of redemption, robed, and crowned, and enthroned, as priests and kings in heaven, we here have (let it be noted) positive demonstration, that, at the time to which this vision relates, a resurrection and a translation have already taken place. It will not do to say, that the picture is anticipative of the position and triumphs of the Church after the seals, trumpets, and vials have run their course. They occupy these thrones, while yet the closed book, which brings forth the seals and trumpets, lies untouched in the hand of Him that sits upon the throne. They see it there, and they vote the Lamb worthy to open it. They behold Him taking it up, and fall down and worship as He holds it. They are in their places when heaven receives the accession of the multitude which come "out of the great tribulation." (Revelation 7:11-14.) They have their own distinct positions when the still later company of the hundred and forty-four thousand gather round the Lamb on Mount Sion. And they are spectators of the judgment of great Babylon, and sing Alleluia in glory as they see her fall. (Revelation 19:4.) Instead of anticipation of the final result of the great day of the lord, there is actual participation in the processes and administrations by which that result is wrought.

They are "Elders," not only with reference to their official places; for that term is expressive of time, rather than of office. The elder, is the older man; and in the original order of human society, he was the ruling man because he was the older man. These enthroned ones are elders, not because they are officers, but they are officers because they are elders. They are the older ones of the children of the resurrection. They are the firstborn from the dead-the first glorified of all the company of the redeemed-the seniors of the celestial assembly; not indeed with respect to the number of their years on earth, but with respect to the time of their admission into heaven. They have had their resurrection, or their translation, in advance of the judgment-tribulations, and are crowned and officiating as kings and priests in glory, whilst others, less faithful, are still slumbering in their graves, or suffering on the earth. They do not represent, by any means, the whole body of the redeemed, as some have supposed, but are exactly what their name imports-the seniors of them-the firstborn of the household-the oldest of the family,--and hence the honoured officials.

There certainly is, as we shall more fully see hereafter, a succession in the order in which the saints are gathered into their final glory. There are some who "escape" the tribulation, being taken to heaven before it comes; there are others who suffer it, and are only taken to heaven out of it. Then, there is a peculiar company of sealed ones, who come in at a still later period; and a "harvest of the earth," still subsequent to their appearance with the Lamb on Mount Sion, if not a still remoter bringing in of those under Antichrist, who "had not worshipped the beast, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads, or in their hands," all of whom together make up the fulness of the first resurrection." And of these successive companies and orders, the enthroned ones of this vision are among the first, if not absolutely the first. They are the seniors--"the Elders."

John saw but twenty-four of them; but these were the representatives of many others. There were many priests and Levites under the old economy. The number of those who "were set to forward the work of the house of the Lord, was twenty and four thousand." (1 Chronicles 23:3-4.) But they were all arranged in courses of twenty-four (1 Chronicles 24:3-5), so that never more than twenty-four were found on duty at a time. There were also many prophets appointed to praise God with instruments of song; but they too were arranged in twenty-four courses, each course with its own individual representative. (1 Chronicles 25:1-31.) These were not human devices, but things specially directed by the Spirit of the Lord (1 Chronicles 18:11-13; 1 Chronicles 19:1-19), and meant to be "figures of the true," and "patterns of things in the heavens." (Hebrews 9:9; Hebrews 9:23-24.) Accordingly, we are to see in these twenty-four royal priests, but one course of as many more courses, all of which together do but represent thousands upon thousands of the same high and privileged class. Heaven is not an empty place, nor is it stinted in the number of its honoured dignitaries.

I find, then, in these enthroned Elders, the highest manifested glory of the risen and glorified saints. They are in heaven. They are around the throne of Deity. They are pure and holy, wearing white, "which is the righteousness of the saints." They are partakers of celestial dominion. They are kings of glory, with golden crowns. They are settled, and at home in their exalted dignities; not standing and waiting as servants, but seated as royal counsellors of the Almighty. They are assessors of the great Judge of quick and dead, the spectators of all that transpires in heaven and earth, and participants in the judgment of the world for its sins, the Church for its apostasies, Babylon for her impurities, Antichrist for his blasphemies, and that old Serpent and his brood, for their ungodliness and wickednesses during all these weary ages.[39] They are the Elders of the glorious house of the redeemed, and kings and priests in the temple and palace of the Lord God Almighty, whom all the earth shall obey, and all the ages acknowledge.

[39] "Do ye not know that the saints shall judge the world? Know ye not that we shall judge angels?" (1 Corinthians 6:2-3.)

And yet, there is another picture in the vision, which some take to be still higher.

"Amidst the throne and around the throne," John saw "four Living ones," unfortunately called "beasts" by our translators, "full of eyes before and behind; the first like a lion, and the second like a young ox, and the third having the face like a man, and the fourth like a flying eagle. And the four Living ones, each one of them, had around them six wings apiece, and within they are full of eyes; and they have not rest day and night, saying, Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty, who was, and who is, and who is to come."

What are we to understand by these? They sing precisely the same song (Revelation 5:9-10) which the Elders sing. They give praise to the Lamb for having died for them, and for redeeming them by His blood "out of every tribe, and tongue, and people, and nation." They say to the Lamb, "Thou redeemest us to God by Thy blood." This settles the point that they are also glorified men, not "beasts" at all, nor mere personifications of mute creation or nature's forces. The schoolmen, and some of the later Fathers, took them to be the four Evangelists.[40] Hence, the lion of St. Mark, the eagle of St. John, etc. But this is fancy, and against the record; for the four Evangelists were Jews, and these Living ones are from all tribes, tongues, peoples, and nations. Some interpret them of the redeemed in general, and as emblematic of the cardinal virtues of the saints; but this also is quite too indefinite to meet the requirements of the vision. Some take them as representing the several dispensations; the lion, the patriarchal; the ox, the Mosaic; the man, the Christian; and the eagle, the Millennial; but we are dealing with living beings, who are all in their places before the Millennial dispensation comes into existence, and actually participating in its introduction. Others explain them as the forces of Providence, which is somewhat nearer the truth, if we understand it, not of Providence in general, but of that economy of things which first comes into being at the resurrection; and of Providence, not as a mere impersonal thing, but in those personal centres whence the power issues.

[40] So Victorinus, in his Scholia in Apocalypsin. And so Adam, of St. Victor, the great hymnologist of the middle ages, taught the Latin Church to sing:

"--Circa thronum magistatis.

Cum spiritibus beatis,
Quatuor diversitatis,
Adstant animalia.

* * * *

Forma formant figurarum
Formas evangelistarum;
Quorum imber doctrinarum,
Stillat in ecclesia."

Perhaps the easiest and shortest way for us to get at the true explanation of this remarkable manifestation, is to go back to the ancient dispensation, so much of which was copied exactly from these heavenly things. The Jewish writers tell us, that the standard of each tribe of Israel took the colour of the stone which represented it in the high priest's breastplate, and that there was wrought upon each a particular figure-a lion for Judah, a young ox for Ephraim, a man for Reuben, and an eagle for Dan. These were the representative tribes, and all the rest were marshalled under these four standards (Numbers 2:1-34);--Judah, on the east, with Issachar and Zebulon; Reuben on the south, with Simeon and Gad; Ephraim on the west, with Manasseh and Benjamin; and Dan on the north, with Asher and Naphtali. In the centre of this quadrangular encampment was the tabernacle of God, with four divisions of Levites forming an inner encampment around it. It was thus that Israel was marched through the wilderness, under the four banners of the lion, the young ox, the man, and the flying eagle. These were their ensigns, their guards, their coverings, the symbols of powers by which they were protected and guided. They were parts of that divine and heavenly administration which led them forth from bondage, preserved them in the wilderness, and finally settled them in the promised land. Such at any rate was the earthly, outward, material aspect of the case. In Ezekiel's vision of the cherubim, we have the same thing in its more interior and heavenly aspects. (Ezekiel 1:1-28.) [41]

[41] Thus rendered by Milton, in Paradise Lost, Book vi:

--Forth rushed with whirlwind sound

The chariot of paternal Deity,
Flashing thick flames, wheel within wheel undrawn,
Itself instinct with Spirit, but conveyed
By four cherubic shapes; four faces each
Had wondrous; as with stars their bodies all.
And wings were set with eyes, with eyes the wheels
Of beryl, and careering fires between;
Over their heads a crystal firmament,
Whereon a sapphire throne.

To cover and guard, is thought to be the proper signification of the word cherub. After the expulsion of our first parents from Eden, cherubim were placed at the east of the garden "to keep the way of the tree of life" (Genesis 3:24); and the prince of Tyrus is likened to the cherub that covereth. (Ezekiel 28:14.) A vision of the cherubim, then, is a vision of them that cover, protect, guard, and keep. And in this vision of Israel's protectors and keepers, what did Ezekiel see? "Above the firmament was the likeness of a throne, as the appearance of a sapphire stone, and the likeness as the appearance of a man above upon it." This was the throne of God. But under the throne, connected with the throne, and instinct with the life of the throne, was "the likeness of four living creatures," who "ran and returned as the appearance of a flash of lightning," and moved with complicated wheels, with high and dreadful rings, full of eyes. It was through them that the Spirit of the throne went forth, every way, whithersoever it would. And these living creatures, the executors of the will of the Spirit of the throne, had the same forms combined in each, which were borne upon the four banners of the children of Israel, the lion, the man, the ox, and the eagle. (Ezekiel 1:10.) These cherubim were not human beings; for they were doing service in the Garden of Eden, when yet there were no human beings but Adam and Eve; and at the time Ezekiel saw them, there were no human beings yet glorified, or, hence, capable of taking such offices. These cherubim were angelic beings. "Of the angels He saith, He maketh His angels spirits, and His ministers a flame of fire." (Hebrews 1:7.) "He shall give His angels charge concerning thee, and in their hands they shall bear thee up." (Matthew 4:6.) And what these cherubim were in the ancient order, these "living ones" are in the order which obtains at the time to which this vision of John refers. They are redeemed men, glorified, and related to the judgment-throne in heaven, and to the interests and affairs of the future kingdom on earth, as the cherubim are related to the throne and kingdom now, and in the former dispensations. They are the cherubim of the new order. They are joined directly to the throne of the new order. They are in the midst of it. They are around it. They are expressions of it. And they take the forms of the lion, the man, the young ox, and the flying eagle, for the reason that they are the heavenly powers who guard and cover the camp of the Lord, which, under them, the entire world is to become. Jesus tells us that "they which shall be accounted worthy to obtain that αἰῶνος, and the resurrection from among the dead... are (ἰσάγγελοί) equal unto the angels" (Luke 20:35-36); and this is the vision of that declaration fulfilled, showing us certain preeminent classes of the eclectic resurrection and translation, not only angelic as to their form of existence, but in the exact positions which angels held in other dispensations. Ezekiel saw but four cherubim. The number was significant of the scene of their ministrations-the world. But these four included and represented many more; for "the chariots of God" are "twenty thousand, even many thousands of angels." (Psalms 68:17.) And for the same reason John saw but four of these "living ones." This is the worldly number, and denotes that their office has reference to God's providence in the world. But in these four are embraced thousands of glorified ones (see Ezekiel 7:10.) whose high distinction is to share the throne with their Divine Redeemer, as His ministers, and as executors of His will throughout eternal ages.

They have wings, for they are angelic now; and more wings than their angelic predecessors, showing how fully they are capacitated for motion, and how much wider is the sphere of their movements. The Israel of old was but one nation, the Israel they do for, is all the nations.

They are full of eyes, before, behind, and within; which is the symbol of intense intelligence, looking backward into the past, and forward into the future, and inward upon themselves and into the nature of things, and able to direct their ways and administrations with unlimited penetration and discretion.

And they never rest, in the fervency and grandeur of their zeal, perpetually expressing the holiness and glory of the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come.

Some have taken them to be the same as the Elders, only in other relations, and in other features of their dignities and blessedness. I cannot so understand it. They have, it is true, the same priestly censers as the Elders, and they sing the same song of a common redemption, kinghood, priesthood, and dominion over the earth. But they have, as a class, an individual distinctness, which is never lost sight of, and never confounded with the eldership. Even on earth, "there are diversities of gifts, and differences of administrations;" and much rather will there be varieties of place and function in heaven. The Elders have crowns and thrones distinct from the central throne; but these living ones have for their crown the very throne itself. They are joined to the throne; they are in the midst of it, and directly express it.[42] They also lead the Elders in their adorations; for "whensoever they give glory and honour, and thanks to Him that sitteth on the throne," then it is that "the twenty-four Elders fall down before Him that sitteth on the throne, and worship Him that liveth for the age of the ages, and cast their crowns before the throne," giving glory, honour, and power to the Almighty Maker of heaven and earth. The one class have more the semblance of counsellors, the other, that of executors, and the two together are the closest to God of all the redeemed.

[42] "These four beasts are living emblems and ornaments of the throne, denoting a nearer admission than the twenty-four Elders,"--Bengel's Gnomon in loc.

And these, my friends, are the dignities and glories to which you, and I, and all who hear the Gospel of Christ, are called and invited. There is not a prerogative of that celestial eldership-not an office or possession of these living ones-not a song they sing--not an attribute they wear-not a place they fill--which is not this night held out and offered to every one of us. Oh, the grandeur, the blessedness, the sublimity of the overtures of the Gospel of Christ! And with your eye on these heavenly splendours, these celestial princedoms and priesthoods, these eternal royalties with God and with His Son, Jesus Christ, and with your heart warmed with the contemplation of their unfathomed excellency, I ask you, whether you are willing to despise and cast away this your golden opportunity to obtain them? I wish to put it to your conscience, O man, O woman, whether, after all this has been put within your reach, you can still hope for clemency, if you wilfully turn a deaf ear, and carelessly let your chance go by! I wish to have your honest, sober, practical decision on the question, whether you are willing to allow this world's fleeting vanities, and damning sins and follies, to occupy and possess you in preference to these immortal regencies, and eternal principalities and powers? Believe me, that I am in earnest in this appeal; for I make it as a messenger of God, ordained to deal with these holy things for your salvation. The Lord fasten it on your soul, and give each of us grace to let go friends, pleasures, comforts, home, country, freedom, life, everything, rather than let slip so blessed an opportunity for so great a prize!

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Bibliographical Information
Seiss, Joseph A. "Commentary on Revelation 4". Seiss' Lectures on Leviticus and Revelation.